New report reveals independent digital media sector in Latin America growing but under attack

SembraMedia, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurial journalists, in partnership with Omidyar Network today published Inflection Point, the most comprehensive study to date on the growth, impact, and threats to independent digital media in Latin America.

45% have suffered violence or threats because of their reporting, and 20% admit self-censorship as a result

REDWOOD CITY, CA, USA (July 20, 2017) — SembraMedia, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurial journalists, in partnership with Omidyar Network today published Inflection Point, the most comprehensive study to date on the growth, impact, and threats to independent digital media in Latin America.

The research report, which studied 100 digital media outlets across Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, reveals that these organizations are increasingly influential in covering issues that promote better governance and fight corruption, but face escalating pressure and threats that could force them to self-censor or terminate operations.

Many of the platforms – run by dedicated journalists seeking greater freedom to cover the critical issues facing countries across the region – are accessing new audiences and building impactful, profitable, and sustainable businesses. More than 70% of the ventures in this study started with less than $10,000, with 12% now bringing in at least half a million dollars a year in revenue. 66% of these outlets have had their stories picked up by international press and 55% have won leading journalism or humanitarian awards.

However, in many cases, this independence and success is coming at a high price. Economic and physical attacks are hindering these media platforms’ ability to operate and are pushing them towards self-censorship. 45% of the organizations questioned have been subject to violence or threats as a result of their reporting, while 20% have changed the topics on which they report as a result.

“After years of working with entrepreneurial journalists in Latin America, I knew their work was increasingly important, but I didn’t realize how much of an impact they were having, or how vulnerable they were, until we completed this study,” comments Janine Warner, co-founder of SembraMedia and an ICFJ Knight Fellow. “Digital media entrepreneurs are deeply transforming the way that journalism is conducted in Latin America. They are generators of change, promoting better laws, defending human rights, exposing corruption, and fighting abuses of power. They are driven to produce independent news in countries that are highly politically polarized — and some of them are paying a high price for it.”

The report identifies three key requirements to enable these organizations to grow and deliver greater impact:

1. Protection: These organizations need to be protected, from physical and economic attacks, if they are going to continue to grow and have the freedom to fully cover sensitive issues. Funders and investors could provide further financial and legal support to help these organizations to better insulate themselves from attacks and respond to them when they come.

2. Professionalization: Sustainability is critical. Stronger business and commercial models will not only enable these organizations to expand their work but will also help them to maintain their independence and shield them from economic sanctions, such as the loss of advertising, a common tactic when governments and others don’t like their news coverage.

3. Partnerships: These organizations can have greater reach and impact. There is an opportunity to explore partnerships that enable wider syndication and promotion of content, to raise international awareness of the issues these platforms are reporting on, and to develop additional revenue streams.

“The breadth, depth, and scale of the challenges to democracy, openness, and accountability at play across the region is deeply concerning. This makes the role of independent media more important than ever,” comments Felipe Estefan, investment principal at Omidyar Network. “Funders, investors, and civil society need to support these organizations to ensure their continued ability to drive real impacts, build sustainable businesses, and act as inspiring models for others across Latin America and beyond.”

The full report can be downloaded in Spanish, Portuguese, and English at

The Inflection Point study was conducted by interviews with the founders or directors of 100 digital news startups – ranging from small, volunteer-fuelled projects serving niche audiences, to significant news organizations reaching tens of millions through websites, podcasts, and social media. These 100 were divided to accommodate 25 each from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

Key insights include:

  • The number of independent digital media sites has shown steady growth
    • At least 441 organizations have been founded in the decade since 2006 – an average of 44 per year
  • More than half of the outlets interviewed are over four years old, and 12% are more than a decade old
    • Established outlets include Animal Político in Mexico, Chequeado in Argentina, and La Silla Vacía in Colombia
    • Newer platforms include Economía Femini(s)ta in Argentina, Meio in Brazil, and Así Como Suena in Mexico
  • More than 70% of the ventures were founded with less than $10,000, and more than 12% generate at least half a million dollars in revenue
  • Nearly 40% of the founders of the digital platforms interviewed were women, including:
    • Economía Femini(s)ta, Argentina
    • Escritura Crónica, Argentina
    • Genero e Número, Brazil
    • Agência Pública, Brazil
    • La Silla Vacía, Colombia
    • Mprende, Colombia
    • Aristegui Noticias, Mexico
    • Lado B, Mexico
  • 72% had their stories picked up by national press, and 66% by international press
    • Animal Político’s story on The Phony Businesses of Veracruz was picked up by the Associated Press and the Guardian and led to a full investigation by the Mexican government which found millions of dollars and hundreds of bank accounts linked to the former governor Javier Duarte. He was subsequently arrested.
  • 55% have won journalism or humanitarian awards for their work
    • Argentinian fact-checking site Chequeado was awarded the Gabo award for innovation in 2015 and was a finalist in 2013
    • La Silla’s Proyecto Rosa report was honored by the German Ministry for Cooperation and Development, while its 2014 story series on the vote-buying practices of a politician won the National Journalism Prize
    • Connectas (Colombia) and Aristegui Noticias (Mexico) were part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their Panama Papers investigation
  • More than 45% of the organizations questioned reported being subjected to threats of violence because of their reporting
    • Congresso em Foco in Brazil was faced with 50 lawsuits following its story on the illegal “super salaries” of government officials
    • 50% of the organizations have suffered cyber attacks because of their news coverage, including Envolverde, which once had all its images replaced with pornography
    • 25% of organizations questioned reported losing advertising support due to the topics they were reporting on
  • More than 20% of all organizations interviewed admit avoiding covering certain topics as a result of intimidation and threats
    • 24% report self censorship in Colombia
    • 12% in Brazil
    • 32% in Mexico
    • 16% in Argentina